Hiking has never been my calling in life, it (or, more precisely, hiking enthusiast friends) has often come calling but usually I pretend to be out of the house, busy with work or literally dead to avoid the strain of putting one foot in front of the other. As a result it was with some bemusement that I found myself atop the imposing Derbyshire Peak District hill Mama Tor this January, as the wind and snow bitterly lashed at me like a cross between a scorned lover and a rabid wolf (whilst love may take many forms, I’d advise against dating a rabid wolf.) I was lured out of the capital by a friend who wanted to hike across the hill rather than do something wholesome like drink his own body weight in rum. He blithely informed us of the various blizzard warnings and dire pronouncements that would be stranded atop the (aptly named) ‘shivering mountain’ when we were already halfway up the M1 with the kind of self-confidence in his own directional abilities only known to the true narcissist. As a result the rest of the car ride was spent glumly drawing lots to pick who we were going to eat first when we inevitably found ourselves becalmed in the snow.
Irritatingly his confidence was justified and rather than a re-enactment of the Donner Party, everything went out without a hitch with the snow providing an incredible backdrop to some of the most outstanding views and natural beauty to be found in a county already overflowing with it. The bucolic village of Castleton surrounded by the rolling foothills of Mama Tor seemed to have been assembled from piecemeal from various guidebooks: all sleepy country pubs, babbling brooks and even a looming castle on a hill (still sentineled by a migratory gang of sheep and one imperiously territorial cow). We were able to rent a ludicrously delightful two bedroom cottage for two nights for an almost unthinkably cheap £50 a night (which did create the sneaking suspicion that the whole thing was a trap to lure London hipsters into some kind of Wicker Man scenario) though we found so much to do in the run-up to our frigid hill-climb (the snow had already built up to Escobar levels) beyond the beautifully rugged countryside, the hills are honeycombed with caves both natural and manmade (clearly the only way the enjoy beautiful landscape is to get as far beneath the earth as you possibly can). From flooded tin mines that you traverse by boat to vaulted caverns which for centuries housed village of rope weavers living beyond the touch of the sun, the Derbyshire peak district is filled with unusual and fascinating sights, all reasonably priced and most with amusing and informative guides.
When we attempted the climb itself, we had to abandon some of our more ambitious plans due to the heaviness of the snow fall (there is an airplane graveyard of crashed WWII era German bombers on the close-by plateau of Kinder Scout that we sadly accepted was out of our reach) but made quick time across a mountain that seemed to shift from winter wonderland to Antarctic wasteland from second to second. We made it down with nothing more serious that my hair freezing solid (a trifling problem I’m sure you’ll agree) and, despite ourselves, felt compelled to return again before too long. It seems a waste to ignore some of the fantastic weekend getaways to be had in Derbyshire just because it’s winter. The views are still majestic, the pubs plentiful and in all likelihood things will be significantly cheaper than waiting till the spring. February and March can always do with a little lift and with the snow gone, involuntary cannibalism should be off the menu.